Harbaugh: Hunter has chance for 'big year'

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Harbaugh: Hunter has chance for 'big year'

SANTA CLARA -- Kendall Hunter showed last season with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average that he can rush in the NFL. But there's more to being an NFL running back than picking up yards, and as offensive coordinator Greg Roman explained, Hunter is adapting nicely.

Hes really starting to understand all the different things that go into playing running back in this league," Roman said. "Which is more than carrying the ball. Its pass-protection, route-running, catching the ball, ball security and the special teams aspect of things as well.

Hunter seems to have a beat on the carrying-the-ball portion of the job. He appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, rushing for 473 yards and two touchdowns. And he's shown significant burst to the outside this camp, breaking off a number of large runs.

Pass-protection detail would seem to cause more problems for the under-sized back.

Hunter slipped to the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft in part because of his small stature, but as the smallest player on the roster at five-foot-seven and 199-pounds, he's making his presence felt in his second NFL training camp.

I feel like I have an advantage over big guys because I can get under them and stay low," Hunter said. "Especially when they come between the linemen and they cant see me."

Hunter is in a great place to sharpen his blocking skills. Blitz pick-up is a point of pride for starting running back Frank Gore. The five-foot-nine, 217-pound back regularly gives up six inches and 50 pounds to the linebackers he turns away in pass-protection drills.

The soft-spoken Hunter is taking notes. He watched as much of Gore's film as he did his own this offseason, and based on his coaches' comments, it's paying off.

The first thing that comes into my mind when I hear Kendall Hunters name is, Football player, Roman said. He loves football. He loves to get out there and compete. He always gives his maximum effort."

"I think just his instincts, his vision, both have improved," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It just seems the feel, the experience is there and in tremendous shape, very strong, running with a lot of confidence."

Ive never seen Kendall Hunter have a bad day or a bad snap where he wasnt totally tuned into football," Roman added. "Kendalls becoming more of a well-rounded football player. Were really glad we have him. He gets better every day.

Hunter, who is also listed as the team's No. 2 kick returner behind Ted Ginn, will need to continue to get better to retain the back-up running back role. The 49ers brought in eight-year NFL veteran Brandon Jacobs and drafted Oregon standout LaMichael James this offseason, creating a skilled and crowded backfield.

The 49ers will likely limit the number of preseason snaps for eight-year veteran Gore, and expect them to give extended second-half playing time to second-round draft pick James.

That leaves plenty of time for Hunter to prove the raving words of the coaching staff will translate into on-field production.

It remains to be seen how the four talented backs will split time in the regular season, but based on the praise from his coaching staff, Hunter will be a big piece of the 49ers' 2012 campaign.

As Harbaugh put it, "I think he really has a chance to have a big year."

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”